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Offseason Primers: Carolina Panthers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ron Rivera's first season as head coach in Carolina resulted in a 6-10 record, but there was plenty of optimism about a playoff run, in part because of the play of Cam Newton.

Instead, the team floundered early in Rivera's second season and finished with a 7-9 record, in part because of the play of Newton. Year 3 of the Rivera era could be the last in Carolina if the team doesn't post a winning record -- and you-know-who will be a huge factor.

2012 Touches Leaders
746 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
DeAngelo Williams 186 (173 car., 13 rec.) 24.9%
Cam Newton 127 car. 17.0%
Jonathan Stewart 110 (93 car., 17 rec.) 14.8%
Mike Tolbert 81 (54 car., 27 rec.) 10.9%
Steve Smith 76 (73 rec., 3 car.) 10.2%
Greg Olsen 69 rec. 9.2%
Brandon LaFell 47 (44 rec., 3 car.) 6.3%
All Others 50 6.7%

The good news for Newton is that his play dramatically improved in the second half of the season, thanks to some tweaks in his game and a favorable schedule. He went from averaging a lousy 17.0 Fantasy points per game in his first seven games to 25.3 per game in his last nine. And for as big a deal as the Panthers' zone-read scheme was, he only scored on six such plays total (compared to 21 in a more standard formation). With many analysts believing defenses will have an answer for the zone-read in 2013, this should be viewed as good news.

And for the first time since his high school days, Newton will be in the same offensive scheme for the third straight year, albeit with a new play caller. Mike Shula replaces Rob Chudzinski as the Panthers offensive coordinator and he's expected to keep most if not all of Chudzinski's offense in place. While there might not be as much creativity as 'Chud' was able to infuse, it keeps Newton comfortable and confident, which is important as he continues to develop.

Newton already will enter 2013 with momentum from last year, but if the Panthers provide him with a good offensive line, he'll have the chance at some monster numbers. And the better he does, the better the Panthers will do. Newton could turn out to be a gem of a pick if he falls to the third round as many expect him to in Fantasy drafts.

DeAngelo Williams -- Offseason sleeper

2012 Target Leaders
490 pass attempts
Steve Smith 138 28.2%
Greg Olsen 104 21.2%
Brandon LaFell 76 15.5%
Louis Murphy 60 12.2%
Mike Tolbert 39 8.0%
Jonathan Stewart 23 4.7%
DeAngelo Williams 20 4.1%
All Others 30 6.1%

Let's be honest: No one's looking for Williams on Draft Day based on how he's done the last two years. He'll be on the wrong side of 30 when the season starts, his rushing average dipped on more carries in 2012 and it would have been practically a full yard lower than the 4.3 average he finished with if not for a 210-yard effort in a meaningless game at New Orleans in Week 17. But before you completely turn your back on Williams, know this: His usage has been a sizable factor in his production as he's failed to post big numbers in part because of a lack of opportunities. Here's proof: Williams has posted 10-plus Fantasy points in half of the 14 games with at least 12 carries he's had over the past three seasons. Make the magic number 13 carries and he's even more efficient, delivering 10-plus Fantasy points in 70 percent of his games. Now there are some fluky stats to help that number up (back-to-back games with 40-plus-yard touchdown receptions last year, for example), but he does not look slow nor does he display any significant decline in ability. If he gets the chance to escape Carolina and play with some consistency in an offense that doesn't let the quarterback hog goal-line work, there's potential for a 1,000-total-yard, eight-touchdown season.

Jonathan Stewart -- Sleeper

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Cam Newton 20-30 overall
Steve Smith 65-75 overall
Jonathan Stewart 65-75 overall
DeAngelo Williams 75-90 overall
Greg Olsen 90-100 overall
Brandon LaFell Late-round pick
Mike Tolbert Late-round pick
Panthers DST Undrafted
Scenario A has the Panthers keeping DeAngelo Williams, muddying up what would otherwise be a delightful running back situation. Scenario B: The aforementioned delightful running back situation, where Williams is somewhere else and Stewart gets a decent amount of work every week. With a restructured contract in hand (proof the team wants him) and just 93 carries from a season ago, the 26-year-old stands to work as the primary rushing force in the Carolina offense. He was on his way there last year, getting 10-plus carries in six of nine games before hurting his ankle and ultimately having surgery. That's the same amount of 10-carry games he had in 2011, a sign the Panthers tried to lean on him more. There are obvious injury concerns with Stew but he's been a proven 1,000-total-yard guy in the past. The only catch would be touchdown production since he'd almost certainly lose out on goal-line work with Newton and Mike Tolbert in the fold. If Williams is out, Stewart should be in play as a 1,200-total-yard back, easily making him a worthy No. 3 running back.

Mike Tolbert -- Late-round flier

Aside from avoiding the Panthers running backs altogether, perhaps the best idea is to stick Tolbert on the back of your roster with a late pick. His first year in Carolina was gross -- only 54 carries, 27 receptions, 451 total yards and five of his seven touchdowns coming in the final three weeks of the season. But Tolbert split reps with two backs while seeing plenty of playing time as a fullback and a running back. If the Panthers send DeAngelo Williams packing, that should give Tolbert more touches. Throw in Jonathan Stewart's constant ankle and foot problems and one might envision Tolbert working as the full-time back at some point in 2012. At worst, an owner burns a late pick on Tolbert and dumps him after a couple of weeks. At best, Tolbert falls into a 15-touch role on a weekly basis. The risk in taking Tolbert late is low.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Dolphins sign Brandian Ross, waive Bruce Gaston
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:08 pm ET) The Dolphins announced Saturday that the team has signed safety Brandian Ross from the team's practice squad and waived defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.

Bears list five players out on final Week 3 injury report
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:06 pm ET) Five injured Bears players will miss Monday's game against the Jets, according to the team's final injury report Saturday: linebacker Shea McClellin (hand), defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (concussion), cornerback Sherrick McManis (quad) and offensive linemen Matt Slauson (ankle) and Roberto Garza (ankle).

In addition, defensive end Trevor Scott (foot) has been listed as doubtful. On the positive side, defensive end Jared Allen (back), safety Chris Conte (shoulder) and wide receiver Josh Morgan (groin) are listed as probable to play Monday.


Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery questionable in Week 3
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2:02 pm ET) Bears wide receivers Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) are officially questionable for Monday night's game against the Jets.

Marshall caught three touchdowns in Week 2 despite not practicing all week, while Jeffery recorded three catches for 47 yards in the game. Both were limited in Saturday's practice.


Vikings sign Charles Johnson off Browns' practice squad
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:18 pm ET) The Vikings announced Saturday that they have signed wide receiver Charles Johnson off the Browns' practice squad. Johnson, who caught six passes for 65 yards in four preseason games with the Browns, played under Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Cleveland last season.

Cowboys waive Lavar Edwards, promote Keith Smith
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) The Cowboys waived defensive end Lavar Edwards and signed linebacker Keith Smith from the practice squad Saturday. With Rolando McClain doubtful to play Sunday due to a groin injury, the Cowboys turned to the practice squad to add to the depth at the position.

Raiders looking to get Marcel Reece more involved
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) The Raiders are looking to get fullback Marcel Reece more involved in the offense moving forward after he touched the ball just four times in the team's first two games, the Associated Press reports.

"We have to be a little bit aware early in the game of getting him involved early," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said after the team's Week 2 loss to the Texans. "We only had 20 snaps again in the first half. There were things designed to him. ... We had some things there it just didn't end up going there. We'll continue to find ways to utilize Marcel."

Reece signed a three-year contract extension worth more than $11 million last September and owns the second-biggest cap hit of any skill-position player behind backup quarterback Matt Schaub. The Raiders face the Patriots in Week 3.

"He's a real tough matchup," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It's hard to find guys that have his skills that you can put on. You can put faster, quicker guys on him that probably don't have his size and you can put bigger guys on him that probably don't have his speed and quickness. It's a tough matchup. Obviously, we'll be challenged trying to get him covered."


Jaguars waive Craig Loston, promote Kerry Taylor
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) The Jaguars waived safety Craig Loston Saturday and promoted wide receiver Kerry Taylor from the practice squad, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Taylor will serve as insurance at the wide receiver position with Cecil Shorts and Allen Hurns banged up but expected to play. Loston didn't play in Week 2 after being signed off the practice squad.


Josh McCown has significant sprain, to see specialist Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:37 am ET) Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown is dealing with a significant thumb sprain, and he's scheduled to see a hand specialist Monday, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

McCown suffered the injury in Thursday night's drubbing at the hands of the Falcons. He's unlikely to play in Week 4 against the Steelers, and if backup Mike Glennon can put together an impressive performance while McCown is out, it's possible the injured quarterback could return to a backup role, despite receiving a vote of confidence from the coaching staff.


Danny Trevathan returns to practice Friday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:17 am ET) Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan returned to practice Friday for the first time since fracturing his left leg during training camp practice on Aug. 12, the Denver Post reports.

"I've just been working as hard as I can," Trevathan said. "I'm not really putting a time on it; I'm just working as much as I can. It just feels good to be out there with my team and just get it moving a little bit."

Trevathan is listed as questionable to play in Week 3 but will likely be de-activated before the game and prepare for a potential return in Week 5 after his team's bye.


Report: Josh McCown to miss 'several weeks' with thumb injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/19/2014) Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown is undergoing a second test on his injured thumb, Alex Marvez of FOX Sports reports Friday. McCown left Thursday's game in Atlanta in the second quarter after hitting his hand on a helmet during a throw. According to the report, he is expected to miss "several weeks" with the injury.

If that is the case, the Buccaneers will turn to Mike Glennon moving forward. Tampa Bay will have 10 days before their Week 4 matchup at Pittsburgh.

 
 
 
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